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Europa United contributor Klaudjo Kavaja discusses the past present and future of the Balkan region and believes that despite the  misgivings and stereotypical views, The Balkan region and heading in positive direction based on cooperation and support.

I know what most people think when they hear about the Balkans. Wars, underdevelopment, and poverty. Some, although they have prefabricated notions about it, cannot easily point on a map where every country from the Balkans is located or name all of them for that matter.

And yes, some of these presumptions may stand. Yes, there was wars in the Balkans in the 1990s. And not only then, because since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the region has been a theater to a number of conflicts, like the first and second Balkan Wars, as new emerging regional powers attempted to exert their domination, liberate or annex new territories.

Then it became part of the larger theater of World War I, or as some like to suggest, it was through here where it all started. A Serbian Nationalistic Organization, the Black Hand assassinated Franz Ferdinand the crown prince (not the rock band!) of Austria — Hungary and his wife in Sarajevo of modern day Bosnia. Then, we all know what happened in the nineties. We all saw it through TV, and some of us also experienced it first hand. Enough of the historical flashbacks though.

Let’s move into the Balkans of today

Politically and economically there is much to be done, reconciliation among the different countries has not be achieved yet, and there is much dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement from the youth who see a future away from the region.

Though, albeit with a slow pace, things have moved forward since then. Lots of effort is being made to bring the people, especially youth closer to each other. Students, young professionals and academics have become part of a regional movement, where they travel to each other’s country, either for vacations, work, conferences, training, and different events allowing them to explore the other’s culture and life, and in the end of the day to relate more to their neighbors.

Durres, Albania

In challenging times, like the tragic earthquake in Durres this November, which took the lives of 50 people, and left thousands homeless, it was the neighboring countries the first to respond and come to the aid of Albania. It was Kosovo, Montenegro, Greece, Serbia, and Italy (not a Balkans country!) among others, to first send their emergency response teams in order to assist with rescue operations. Solidarity prevailed. My own social media accounts, and those of my friends, where poured with messages of support and concern, as was my inbox.

This is the new Balkans for me. The Balkans of solidarity. Where we all understand that we are here, coexisting in the same space and if we don’t help each other out who will? Politics and historical grievances can and will complicate things. But it is in the hands of ordinary people who want to build their lives in this region to change that. As that old saying goes “A friend in need, is a friend indeed”. We all need those friends, yes we do.

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Klaudjo Kavaja
Klaudjo Kavaja has an academic background in International Relations, Development Work and Education Policy with experience working in the field of education, international development, and human rights with professional experience in international organizations, INGOs, and research institutes. Interests include writing and academic research in issues such as EU affairs, Education, Public Policy, Migration, Conflict and Peace-building, and Western Balkans. Klaudjo Kavaja considers the European integration of Western Balkans as a whole, as the only viable sociopolitical and economic alternative for the region. An avid language lover speaking Albanian, English, Greek, and Spanish.

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